Former cheerleader says coach sexually assaulted her in 1984
This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Nov. 21, 2011 - A former cheerleader at Normandy High School says a man who coached football there in 1984 sexually assaulted her -- and she made the charge on national television.
Goldie Taylor, now 43, didn't name her alleged abuser when she was interviewed on MSNBC's "The Last Word" this week, but later, on her website she did: Pat Sullivan, a longtime coach at high schools in the St. Louis area and member of a statewide coaching hall of fame who just completed his last stint coaching boys and girls in cross country at Clayton High School.
As a result of the publicity surrounding the accusation, Clayton has decided not to rehire Sullivan, and Taylor says she will be returning to St. Louis to press her case. Clayton officials said Friday that an investigation had turned up no reports of sexual misconduct involving the part-time coach.
Sullivan, reached briefly by telephone, confirmed he was a coach at Normandy in 1984 but had little else to say.
"I just heard about all of this," he said. "I'm in the process of getting a lawyer right now. Good-bye."
The story began during the weekend, when Taylor said she was watching coverage of the Penn State child sex-abuse scandal and heard that Jerry Sandusky, the former assistant football coach charged with sexually assaulting young boys, was going to fight the charges.
Under those circumstances, Taylor said, she realized the boys may have to testify in public about what they said happened.
"What happened to these children is something so horrible, something so unthinkably evil, that to have them stand trial is unimaginable," she told host Lawrence O'Donnell on "The Last Word" on MSNBC Monday .
Then, she added, she realized that she needed to come forward with her own story.
"In my own fear of being shamed and blamed, even as a grown person, as an adult, a mother of children now, I felt like I had no safe harbor to tell it," Taylor said. "But if I were going to challenge these adults at Penn State to tell it, if I were going to challenge other people to speak up and speak out ... then why not me?
"I said now is the time, and I would not wait another day."
Taylor, whose website says she is a journalist, political strategist and media consultant to NBC News, told O'Donnell that she could not name her accuser on television for legal reasons. But she apparently had a change of heart about going public, because online she named him.
At the Clayton School District, news of what Taylor had to say and the realization that Sullivan had been coaching track and cross country there for the past two years, for boys and girls, led to some swift action, said spokesman Chris Tennill.
He said that Sullivan's part-time, temporary assignment for the fall sports season had ended and he would not be coming back to work at Clayton. He said Sullivan had never been employed as a teacher in the district, and the background check he went through indicated no problems.
"We have had no complaints or concerns about his work or his behavior since he has been here," Tennill said. "When he was hired, he went through the same fingerprinting, FBI and DFS (Division of Family Services) background checks that every one of our employees goes through, and everything came back fine."
Sullivan was inducted into the Missouri Track & Cross Country Coaches Hall of Fame in 2009.
His biography on the association's website says: "35 years of coaching experience coach at KC Central, KC Southwest, Normandy, Berkeley and Ladue. Is responsible for over 150 All-State track and CC athletes with 21 state champions. His teams have brought home a state trophy in each girls CC, girl's track and boy's track. His boy's 1600 Relay teams have went under 3:20 nine different years and his boy's 3200 Relay teams under 7:50 five different years. Also had two girl's CC teams recognized as national champion teams in 1979 and 1980.
Clayton's Tennill said the district was in the process of contacting parents and students, particularly those who may have had contact with Sullivan in his coaching role, and counselors and administrators would be available for anyone who had information they wanted to pass along.
Asked why Clayton was ending Sullivan's employment when so little information was available, Tennill replied:
"As educators, we're always a little stunned when something like this comes forward. Our job is to move very quickly, past being stunned and concerned, and make sure we take quick action to make sure our students are safe and school continues to be a safe place for kids to learn and sports continue to be a safe place to compete.
"We feel like we always have to act on the side of caution and act in a way that is going to protect our students. While we don't know exactly all of the facts at this point in time, and there may never be a time when we know all of the facts, we still have to act in what we feel is in the best interest of our student athletes and our student body. As the parent of two young daughters myself, I would expect nothing less from their school."
When Taylor appeared on MSNBC, she said that though the the alleged abuse occurred a long time ago, "I have lived with it every day of my life," adding:
"There really are no survivors. There are just people like me to tuck it in and keep it moving and try to make something better of it."
She said she did not start out intending to tell her story on Twitter, but with each brief message that she wrote, she felt compelled to keep going and tell the whole tale.
Then, Taylor said, she caught herself for a minute.
"I was making the decision in real time," she told O'Donnell, "and then I had to stop because I realized that the woman who had supported me, who had tried to reach me, my mother, who when I stopped cheerleading, when I dropped out of debate, when I dropped out of high school, that she didn't know how to reach me. So I needed to call my mother, and when she said OK, I moved ahead."
And, she said, "I've decided to go home and make the charge and tell the story. I just won't stop here."
When Taylor began her Twitter postings alleging abuse, she said:
"At first I was angry that #PSU officials covered it up. Now, I'm ashamed that I never had the courage to tell my own story."
Other Tweets said:
"I've been running all of my life. It ends now."
"I've decided to go home to St. Louis. I have some unfinished business."
"For the first time in 26 years, I am shedding tears."
"My story means nothing if I don't do everything in my power to stop him."
And Taylor completed the post on her website this way:
"I survived. Not unscathed. But I survived. I am grateful for that. But today, I am praying for the other young women who may not have...
"Oh, and Pat Sullivan ... sue me. I welcome it."